A Hockey Story, Flyers 'N Sync and Your FGSB Mailbag

A Hockey Story, Flyers 'N Sync and Your FGSB Mailbag

Matt Herneisen grew up in Gilbertsville, PA. He played minor hockey for the Boyertown Bears, the Philadelphia Junior Flyers, the Valley Forge Colonials/Minutemen, and the Toronto Marlboros. He played junior hockey for the United States National Development Program, the Peterborough Petes, and the Saulte Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Matt played professional hockey for the Trenton Titans, Dayton Bombers, and Reading Royals.

Matt Herneisen lay in bed on a late August afternoon, lost in a haze, tired and weak. A fan in the corner of the room provided a brief break from the summer heat before turning its attention to the loose corner of a Mark Recchi poster. He couldn’t help but think about his old classmates just down the street, wrapping up their first full week of school. He also couldn’t help but think about his future teammates going through training camp without him, and how he wasn’t just going to be the new guy, but the new and late guy. All of this on top of being The American. Done with Mark Recchi for now, the breeze turned back to Matt.

When he was sure the worst of the mono had passed, Matt dragged himself out of the house to shoot pucks in the driveway. He remembered from his doctor’s visits that the only real danger to his life was his swollen spleen, and it seemed as if resting and getting plenty of fluids was more of a suggestion. His mom wasn’t surprised when she found him there.

“Matt, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to anymore. You’ve only missed a week of school here. We could re-enroll you. You could play for the Minutemen or Junior Flyers again this year. They’d love to have you.”

What had transpired over the past two or three years was that Matt Herneisen had emerged as one of the better hockey talents in the Mid-Atlantic region. In the late ‘90’s the Mid-Atlantic region was competitive, but even its best Bantam (U-16) clubs couldn’t quite keep up with powerhouses from Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts. Local Midget hockey (U-18) was for kids with spotty beards whose hockey dreams stopped at the thought of one day driving themselves to practice. When you got to be about 14 or 15 back then it was quite clear that if you hoped to play college or junior hockey you needed to head north, usually to a New England Prep School, in an extremely rare case, as was Matt’s, to the Midwest or to the Real Deal in Canada. For all intents and purposes, scouting of Mid-Atlantic players was nonexistent compared to today. Free AOL 90 hour trial discs still came in the mail on a regular basis. There were no online stats or recaps so you couldn’t catch a USHL or NAHL scout’s eye when they sorted the league stats online. Everything was word of mouth, and phone calls, and the occasional life-changing fax.

“We just got a fax from your billets. They’re backing out. They sent a fax. Here.”

Matt took the piece of paper from his mom, careful to hold it by the edges so his sweaty fingers wouldn’t smudge the ink. He began reading:

~Ed, we’re really sorry to hear that Matt’s sick and although we hate to do this, with a new grandchild in the picture we don’t think Matt coming to billet with us is going to work out. I’m sorry to do this so late in the game but this has all happened so suddenly and we’re just looking out for our family. We wish you the best of luck in life and hockey, and wish Matt a speedy recovery.~

It was easy enough to read between the lines of this proud Canadian whose grandchild, mind you, was actually living in New Jersey.

~Ed, hockey is more than just a national pastime to us, as baseball is to you. Hockey is engrained in our culture. It is a thread in the fabric of this nation. We were hesitant about accepting an American into our home to begin with and now that he has missed training camp because he caught a cold, we don’t think it’s prudent to have your son billet with us. I mean, what if he isn’t even any good? We might never recover from the scandal.~

“It doesn’t matter,” Matt said handing the paper carefully back to his mom, careful not to display even a hint of his knee-jerk reaction to the rejection.

Whether it was the naivety of youth or the tunnel vision of a determined person, after shooting fifty more pucks this road block deterred Matt about as much as previous, possibly bigger one had. At this time in the always tenuous relationship between Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, Canada had just issued an edict, of sorts, stating that Americans couldn’t play on Canadian minor hockey teams. This rule was meant to dissuade the stars of Buffalo’s and Detroit’s youth leagues from banding together and stacking the talent on Canadian teams close to the border, which kind of makes sense. The problem is that no matter how reasonable something seems on the surface, neither Hockey Canada nor USA Hockey have ever taken kindly to the other side creating any sort of rule that affected their constituents. In retaliation, USA hockey was threatening to revoke Canadian kids’ scholarships from American colleges. The two sides were at a stalemate but the Canadian directive still stood.

None of this mattered to Matt.

As his recovery continued Matt started shooting more pucks in the driveway, and with his strength returning they started kissing the crossbar instead of floating in 3 feet high. He started going on short jogs that turned into long distance runs. He began hitting the weights and resuming his agility drills. He wasn’t in control of his living situation, Hockey Canada, or USA Hockey. Last he had heard the Marlies coach still wanted him to come to Toronto. The number 8 was still waiting for him. An ’83 prodigy named Jason Spezza was still looking for a right wing. All he had to do was get across that border.

The only part of the plan that hadn’t fallen through, and was nagging at Matt more than these other “trivial” details, he was still going to an all-boys Catholic school in midtown Toronto called St. Michaels. For months he had been excited to go to Canada and live with a billet family, to play hockey for a team that had regularly destroyed his during summers past. The school situation had been just a minor detail in the bigger plan and now it was the plan. He wasn’t Catholic and, truth be told, he wasn’t all that into school. The irony.

But on a dewy September morning the Herneisen family packed into a green GMC Jimmy and turned left out of the driveway. As the sun rose over the rolling farms of Montgomery County, Matt’s parents sipped coffee and his 11 year old brother slept with his face plastered against the window, all riding towards Matt’s uncertain future. No one knew when Matt would be able to play for the Marlies, if ever. No one knew where Matt was going to live or even what the plan was to find housing. The only thing they all knew is that they were climbing 476 North towards Toronto. Matt sat quietly in the back seat staring out the window as the landscape of his childhood passed him by, too excited to sleep at the start of this new adventure.

FGSB Mailbag!

From G. Burns: So excited for the NSYNC reunion on Sunday at the VMAs… if the Flyers were to make a throwback boyband who would be in it?
Going off of the 2GE+HER formula, we’d need to have the heartthrob, the shy one, the cute one, the older brother and the bad boy if we want to be a commercial success, which we obviously do as that is the sole point of constructing a boy band. Had you asked me this question 3 months ago I would have simply answered “Danny Briere.” He filled all these roles and would keep our overhead down. Given that Briere would now have to be a member of Ensemble (that's French for "together" in case you're not as educated as I), my selections for the 2013-2014 boy band, FlyHer, are as follows:

The Heartthrob: Wayne Simmonds – Simmer is face of the band material. He'll also expand our fan demographic, as all the ladies with toothpicks for legs will come running (carefully) when they see Wayne's sexy spindles. It's important to get the skinny legs and all crowd to support you.
The Shy One: Matt Read – Matt Read seems like a quiet guy. Probably because he spends all his downtime reading college books and trying on sweaters. Little known fact, Read attended The Milford School for a PG year before heading off to college.
The Cute One: Brayden Schenn – it’s no secret we have dude bones for Brayden Schenn. He looks like he should have been a Goonie with a cool ass gold chain and v-neck under shirt. Heeeeyy Yooouuuu Guuuyyyysss!
The Older Brother: Steve Hartnell – this maybe should have been Kimmo or Vinny Lecav, but Scoot obviously has to be in this group just so we have a dude with a bad ass bun or long, flowing Michael Bolton locks. If there was an Older Dad hole we needed to fill Kimmo definitely would have been our guy.
The Bad Boy: Zac Rinaldo – What’s badder than taking topless selfies of yourself and sending them to the ladies after you’re supposed to be in bed?? You so bad, Zac!

From Ryan L: Going golfing this weekend. Any advice?
My dad always used to say “Don’t attempt a slapshot with a driver.” Up until last week I kind of thought that went without saying. That was until I read one of the premier puck handlers in the National Hockey League, someone with the hand-eye coordination of a muskrat, missed the ball by at least six inches and managed to stab himself as he broke his club in half. Also, wear a helmet. Concussions are no laughing matter.

From Frank D: What’d you think of Samuel Morin saying that he’s been answering the same questions since he was 16 on last night’s Flight Plan?
He better get ready for 20 more years of it. Kid seems nice. Can’t imagine how difficult going through all that stuff is in your second language. Did she just say I have to go in the bathroom fix my hair and take a shit? Once again, I’m a fan of the spirit of the show, but I’m not really getting much out of it except for things like Marc Bergevin’s pants:

I also enjoyed that:
a) the in-house media person at the draft was playing the Jurassic Park Theme between picks
b) Flight Plan Paul Holmgren is obviously making a significant effort not to sound like Other Media Paul Holmgren
c) no one is comparing Samuel Morin's game, or his face, to that of Chris Pronger's. No one is setting the bar too high for this kid.
d) Whoever came to Morin's rescue when he was talking about the Rocky Russian decided it was too much effort to pronounce Ivan as "e-von", and just Philyyized it because saying things correctly is for losers.

From KD: Just wrapped up Orange is the New Black and I think we should sign Piper Chapman to an PTO.
I don’t disagree. That ending scene (NO SPOILERS) had me so tense that I was sore the next morning. I agree though, can’t offer her a contract right out of the gate, she might disrupt the room. She has a tendency to get under people’s skin. Could just be that everyone is locked in a prison, or it could be that she's a super annoying know-it-all. That last scene shows that she's got the skills we look for in a REAL FLYERS, but we know how it goes when you upset the locker room – you get shipped off to a Stanley Cup winner.

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS